This podcast is also available on Spotify, Apple Podcast, and YouTube.

Kimberly Snyder developed a love for creative artmaking from a young age and was inspired by sewing and crocheting with her grandmother. Her passion for art history began with classes at the University of Santa Cruz (UCSC), where she explored the narratives, historical contexts, and rebellious nature of some artworks. These combined interests eventually led her to a career in art museums.

Snyder began her journey at NUMU as a curatorial intern in 2014. She has held various positions before, most recently becoming the executive director. Through her work at the museum, she discovered a love for building connections with volunteers, members, and staff while spotting their potential contributions to the organization. Over the past ten years, Snyder has seen the growth of programs such as NUMU’s Annual Juried High School ArtNow Exhibition. This educational program provides student artists real-world experience by participating in a juried museum exhibition.

As executive director, Snyder aims to bolster NUMU’s community presence and elevate its Bay Area profile through strategic programming. She envisions the museum as an interactive hub that continues to engage with Los Gatos’s history. She hopes to enhance existing programs, such as establishing a council of teachers and producing an ArtNow retrospective exhibition celebrating the program’s impact on students.

In our conversation, we discuss Snyder’s journey to becoming NUMU’s executive director, her experience as a mother, her hobbies, which include cooking and bringing folks together, and the words she tries to live by: “It’s not about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

Join New Museum Los Gatos for its upcoming “Boundaries: the 4th Annual Experimental Exhibition,” produced in partnership with genARTS Silicon Valley and opening on July 19.

Follow NUMU @newmuseumlosgatos and learn more about their partnership with @genartssv

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A (Still) Life of Avocados, Lemons, Oranges, and Strawberries.

The morning before an art event, you might find James Mertke unloading the Tetris puzzle of art pieces and display shelves from his car. It’s been a little over a year since James started participating in art markets, and although he’s still learning the ropes, he’s grown a lot since his first event. He’s created an eye-catching display with hand-painted signage and a variety of shelves.

James can’t remember a time he wasn’t painting. He loves pushing color vibrancy and emphasizing shadows. “I’ve landed on acrylic paints because I enjoy the vibrancy that can be achieved and the fast drying times that encourage me to work quickly and deliberately.”

Talk with James for a few minutes, and you’ll find there’s a story behind each brightly colored still life—sliced fruit, donuts, Botan Rice Candy, strawberry “grandma” candies—simple and happy childhood memories captured on canvas. “That’s one of my favorite things about the things I paint. Just on the surface, it’s a lemon to someone. But when I tell them the story about the lemon tree, maybe they’ll share something about how their grandparents had a lemon tree that they remember.”

During high school, academics became the priority while art took the back burner. James discovered a love of mechanical engineering in 2018 at Santa Clara University. Practicing art became something reserved for weekends at home. But when many doors closed during the pandemic, a door opened for James to pursue art. Commuting time could instead be dedicated to painting. 

Looking for new ways to practice his craft, James noticed a 100-day painting challenge on Instagram. Over the summer, he painted a new piece every day for 100 days in a row. With a time constraint, he spent less time adjusting the same painting and simply applied different techniques to his next piece. The subject of his paintings also shifted. “Before the pandemic, I was mostly painting ocean scenes…I would take reference photos when I went to Santa Cruz or Monterey…When the pandemic happened, I started transitioning to the still lifes because I was looking for things around my house to paint.” 

A prevalent subject in James’s art is lemon slices. He finds eye-catching glassware from the thrift store, arranging and rearranging lemon slices around them to get the right reference shot. James details the strong shadows and vibrant yellows in his art, but the connection behind the lemons is personal and sweeter. The lemons come from the tree in his grandpa’s backyard. “I always say it’s a giant lemon tree, but it’s a dwarf one—I’m taller than it—but it’s the most prolific thing,” he says. His grandpa remains one of James’s biggest supporters and is always thrilled to offer him lemons. After an art market, James will call him to share how it went. “He likes hearing when I make a sale…he’ll be so excited and smiling all the time.”

After the 100-day challenge, James improved his skills—and his inventory. “I had boxes and boxes of paintings.” He made it a project to get himself into events and shows to sell his work. Since James didn’t study art or take any art classes, he didn’t naturally find himself surrounded by an art community. He’s worked to find community by joining his school’s art club, frequenting art events, and exchanging art pieces with new friends. The art community he’s found is extremely supportive. “Art is about abundance. There’s not limited space for all the artists,” he explains. “The more art people create, the more opportunities people create for people to appreciate art, and the more people appreciate art, the more people will want to support artists.”

Early this year, James was invited to show his work at the Elliott Fouts Gallery in Sacramento. His pieces have been curated into an exhibit titled, The Still Life. James also connects with the local community for opportunities to display art at businesses like Voyager Craft Coffee and Fox Tale Fermentation Project. 

Recently, James introduced mechanical engineering pieces into his work by snapping reference photos in the machine shop for mechanical engineering–themed paintings. He submitted a series featuring LED lights, electrical resistors, and 3D-printed items to an art show sponsored by the School of Engineering at SCSU to celebrate the art of engineers. The paintings were acquired by the Department of Mechanical Engineering and now hang in the office.

Mechanical engineering and painting used to be two unrelated interests, but James has found they go hand in hand. “I’m an artist and engineer. I feel like when people think of engineering, it’s all math and logic…but I also like expressing my creative side,” he says. “Engineering is creative too, in a different way. I think engineering and art coexist and create some really cool combinations.”  


Content Magazine and The Cilker School of Art & Design at West Valley College in Saratoga are not just partners, but a community united in their support for South Bay Artists. Over the past few years, this community has grown, coming together during the changing seasons to celebrate emerging, established, and student artists. Each year, the Cilker School of Art & Design graduation Expo has expanded, with their new visual arts building becoming a keystone fashion show. In 2024, the expo reached new heights, expanding to include the School of Science & math and culminating in their inaugural STEAM’D Fest.

The 2024 collaboration featured campus-wide activations that included physics and chemistry demonstrations, birds of prey raptor show, a visual arts student gallery exhibition, [a diverse collection of artworks showcasing the talent and creativity of our students], and a fashion show in tandem with the Content Magazine 16.3 pick-up party. The show opened with performances from the alumni ensemble “Hearts Matter,” gallery tours, food, and drink, along with featured creatives The Coterie Den and visual artists RC and Xiaoze Xie.

Guests gathered at 8 pm for the fashion show, hosted under a hundred-year-old oak tree at the new second-story visual art building courtyard. Opening remarks recognized esteemed professors who would be retiring at year-end, and a member of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe provided a land acknowledgment that recentered guests. Models took the stage, strutting the runway adorned in student designs and accompanied by projectors and a lights show produced by engineering students.

The end of the evening was marked by performances from Ambervox, which had guests dancing in the street. Even as the teardown commenced, guests lingered, connecting around the evening’s events. Your presence and participation made this event truly special, and we appreciate your support in making it a success.

This ongoing collaboration with West Valley College is a beacon of aspiration and inspiration, bringing together creatives of all skill levels, genres, and walks of life. It’s a testament to the vibrant and diverse local art community, a community that Content Magazine has long been dedicated to fostering and celebrating. Join us in this celebration of local talent and inspiration. 

Get ready for our next Pick-Up Party, 16.4, “Profiles,” which is set to take place on August 22nd at The School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in Eastside San Jose. This event promises to be a thrilling celebration, showcasing the 2024 Content Emerging Artist Award Recipients. We can’t wait to see you there! 

West Valley Colleges CILKER ANNUAL ART+DESIGN EXPO ’24 at West Valley College in Saratoga, California on May 16, 2024. (Stan Olszewski/SOSKIphoto)

Our job is to ask the questions that the audience is thinking so that we can all connect with what the artist is thinking.

-Lauren Schell Dickens, Chief Curator San Jose Museum of Art

Also available on Spotify, Apple Podcast, and YouTube.

The current San José Museum of Art Exhibition, Seeing through Stone, is on view through Sunday, January 5, 2025.

The stories told by museums hold profound implications for how society understands history and power dynamics. San José Museum of Art Chief Curator Lauren Schell Dickens has partnered with The Institute of the Arts and Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Santa Cruz Barrios Unidos to curate the museum’s current exhibition, “Seeing through Stone,” part of their ongoing Visualizing Abolition series. At the heart of this project lies a critical examination of the agency wielded by artists, activists, and institutions in imagining a world without prisons.

Seeing Through Stone challenges dominant narratives surrounding incarceration and stands as a testament to the power of art in confronting societal injustices. Featuring the works of 80 artists, It delves into themes of prison abolition, offering a platform for marginalized voices and a vision for creating a world beyond prison walls. Through poignant imagery and evocative installations, artists provoke viewers to confront the harsh realities of the prison-industrial complex while envisioning a world free from the constraints of incarceration. By centering the experiences of system-impacted individuals and their allies, the exhibition aims to spark dialogue and catalyze action toward dismantling oppressive systems.

Visualizing Abolition extends beyond the confines of the museum walls by fostering networks between abolition activists and artists. Through public programs and engagements, they seek to deepen community involvement and amplify the voices of those affected by incarceration.

Lauren Schell Dickens, most recently featured in Content Magazine Issue 15.4, “Profiles,” was born in the South Bay and raised in Sonoma County. She received a BA in American Studies from Yale University and an MA in Modern Art History, Critical Studies from Columbia University in New York. Her original interest in lighting design for theater arts set the stage for her interest in the work required when sharing an artist’s work. As a curator, Lauren weaves together the voices of artists, creating narratives that hopefully have a transformational effect on viewers.

In this conversation, we discuss Lauren’s Journey to becoming a curator, the transformative potential of art in fostering collective imagination and social change, the importance of artists in challenging normative representations of prisons, and specific installations that guests should look out for.

Join The San José Museum of Art on Friday, June 21, for live musical performances that will activate the artworks in SJMA’s exhibition “Seeing Through Stone” in collaboration with the City of San José’s Make Music Day Celebrations. Acclaimed composer and theorist James Gordon Williams, assistant professor of music at UC Santa Cruz, will perform an improvisational piece using a sculpture by interdisciplinary artist Maria Gaspar made of iron bars from the Cook County Department of Corrections, the largest single-site jail in the US. Experimental composer and visual artist Guillermo Galindo will perform a piece on his artwork, Llantambores, an instrument made of materials found at the US-Mexico border.

Follow The San José Museum of Art @sanjosemuseumofart on Instagram and visit their website at

At first glance, the Space Palette might appear to be an alien device. It consists of a large, oval frame filled with a series of holes (4 large and 12 small). If only observed, its function will remain a mystery. However, once you physically interact with the object, its purpose is revealed. By passing your hands through the smaller holes, different musical sounds are selected, while passing your hands through the larger holes allows the instrument to be played. Multicolored, abstract graphics on a nearby screen visually reflect your choices. Though the origins of the Space Palette may seem extraterrestrial, it is actually one of Tim Thompson’s many interactive installation pieces.

How would you describe your artwork?

Before 2002, I was a musician who developed nerdy software for algorithmic composition [the creation of music through the use of algorithms] and real-time musical performance [music performed through immediate computer responses]. This software was a platform for my creativity.

Since 2002, the first year I went to Burning Man, I’ve been developing interactive installations and instruments as platforms so others can be creative. Burning Man provides powerful inspiration, virtually unlimited and uncurated opportunities, and a large appreciative audience for interactive artwork. While music is still a key aspect, my artwork has expanded to include graphics, video, and physical structures.

Three-dimensional input devices are particularly interesting to me. Using a 3D input device can be as transformative as using a paintbrush instead of a pencil. The potential for 3D input in uniquely expressive instruments is exciting and only beginning to be realized.

You often combine art, technology, and music. What are some of the challenges of working with these mediums?

Dealing with complexity is a primary challenge. My installations are often intended to be “casual instruments” that can be enjoyed immediately, analogous to “casual games,” like Angry Birds. A simple interface is key to this, but simplicity shouldn’t limit an instrument’s creative use or depth of expression. I often make a comparison to finger painting—one of the simplest creative interfaces around. No one needs to be taught how to finger paint. A child doesn’t even need to be able to hold a paintbrush. Yet [finger painting] allows a depth of expression that can satisfy any artist. One of my most successful pieces is the Space Palette—its interface can essentially be described as finger painting in mid-air, where the “paint” is both visual and musical.

“Using a 3D input device can be as transformative as using a paintbrush instead of a pencil.”

Tim Thompson

In technology-based artwork, a simple interface usually corresponds with a great deal of underlying complexity. I have a lifetime of programming experience, so I’m well-prepared to deal with that complexity. I sometimes use a complex interface to contrast and complement a simple interface, incorporating both in the same artwork. The more challenging aspect for me is selecting the type of technology to use. New sensors and displays are being invented at a dizzying rate. It’s easy to find yourself always investigating the latest technology and never finishing anything. Deadlines work well to combat this tendency, and events like Burning Man make excellent deadlines.

What does being creative mean to you?

Being creative means creating something that didn’t exist previously, which applies both to me and the people using my installations. Up until recently, most of my efforts involved creating music and software out of “thin air.” With the help of TechShop San Jose, being creative with physical things is becoming easier and easier.

What are your plans for the future? Where do you think your work is going next?

I have been using and exploring three-dimensional input devices for over a decade. I will continue to explore their potential for the foreseeable future, in both casual and performing instruments as well as installations. I’m particularly looking forward to using the Sensel Morph, a new pressure-sensitive pad being developed in Mountain View.

What response are you hoping for when someone interacts with your art?

I want people to realize that they are in control and are creating their own art and experience, especially if they haven’t previously considered themselves a musician or otherwise creative. Most instruments require a long learning curve and finger dexterity, which are barriers to entry for creativity. My casual instruments attempt to break down these barriers without sacrificing the potential for expressiveness or creativity. The response to the Space Palette has been particularly gratifying. The most common things I’ve heard as people walk away from it, smiling, are: “I want one in my living room” and “I could stay here all night.”

Born in Mexico City and currently based in Silicon Valley, Taryn Curiel’s passion for art has been with her since early childhood and has culminated in a body of work filled with sensation and enigmatic energy. 

Techniques involving texture, lines, and a muted color palette help her in her signature use of the figure with abstract elements. Her medium is watercolor, but in her own way. With continued experimentation, she is always learning and exploring but remains true to her overall mission: to intrigue the viewer. 

Learn more about ⁠Silicon Valley Open Studios⁠.

Silicon Valley Open Studios 2024 takes place the first three weekends of May and showcases the studios of over 200 Silicon Valley Artists. Weekend three, May 18-19, will be hosted in the South Bay. Thirty-three artists at The Alameda Artworks in San José, including abstract watercolor painter Taryn Curiel, will open their studios to guests on May 18 and 19.

Follow Taryn at:

Come closer. Try not to look away. Be confronted, be comforted, hold the question that has arisen between two bodies.

Artists are revered for their emotional vulnerability. Solorio takes it a step further as her chapters evolve from form to form: the outpour of feeling into a journal instigates a ceramic that holds its weight; the finished ceramic asks to be casted into a story; the performance ties all the messages together. By working in different dimensions, Solorio layers the weaknesses of one medium under the strengths of another.

In 2020, Solorio published a performance titled Fruit of Knowledge. In the video, she stands alone in a cage. Naked and blindfolded by choice, she has invited her own body to join her mind in exploring a question together: What if Eve’s choice to eat the fruit was favorable? Above the cage hangs an apple—the symbol of freedom, awareness. At the sixth hour of performance, Solorio reaches up and eats of the forbidden fruit.

What an audience perceives can spark a beautiful exchange of prompt and perception. And yet, what the audience rarely sees is the labor for the art to exist. For her seven-minute video, Solorio received three days of migraines from dehydration and exhaustion. Yet, when the time comes to channel another question through performance, Solorio will gladly do it again. “I don’t feel protected while doing my work,” she shares. “I get stronger from doing it.”

She is driven by the intrigue of self-discovery. Strength grows through the pain of shedding the social constructs pressed upon us since birth. In another performance created during the pandemic, Perpetual Cycle, Solorio filmed herself again. The video shows her running—which, true to life, is a practice she keeps six days of the week. The following scene shows her eating, but chewing away at excessive amounts of food. Then, a toilet: Jackelin heaves and vomits orange liquid into the bowl. At long last, she stands, sucks in her stomach and smiles at the mirror.

The idea for this performance came during a run: “I asked myself, ‘Why am I running so much? Am I addicted to it?’ ” After all, when she started running at 13, her goal had been to lose weight, pressured by unrealistic expectations. Though her daily run evolved into a life-giving ritual, she continues to hold herself accountable through her art. “This came from a real space,” Solorio emphasizes. “I really did binge. It was hard, but necessary.”

Solorio challenges the male gaze and the patriarchal arm of religion in her physical art forms as well. The body, bare under the gaze of other eyes, speaks of attraction as much as it does repulsion. Sculptures of clay and human hair, such as Solorio’s ceramic vagina collection, are as wondrous as they are shocking. In a recent series, a photo documentation of The Last Supper creates an alternate history: The female body, recast as the pope or as Jesus Christ herself, reminds us all to ask why. Why are things the way they are, and what keeps them that way? “I researched,” Solorio says. “I found that a woman could be pope, but the current pope needs to declare it. And no one will go against tradition.”

What once protected now provokes. Solorio was about six or seven, living with her grandmother in Mexico, when she was first punished by gender tradition. Her grandmother chastised her for playing on the soccer field—a place for boys and men, not girls—and sent her to her room. There, she kneeled and prayed to the Virgin Mary and Jesus while her grandmother disciplined her. “She left some welts. Then I had to go to catechism school.” Solorio went, but she purposefully donned a pair of booty shorts that revealed the marks.

Before arriving fully in her role as artist, Solorio taught preschool for 10 years and served as a preschool director for five. Currently, she is a caregiver of three girls under five years old. “I give it my all. Being around children so much, you can become like them,” she laughs. “I lack a social filter sometimes; I don’t want to be contained. I want to be childlike and free.” 

The common threads of playfulness and honesty are woven through all her endeavors, especially her artmaking. Solorio rejects a strictly linear approach to self-reflection. “I’m always connecting to my old self,” she says. “We’re all intertwined.” The first version of herself, the dreamer, holds hands with the pessimist born in hindsight. “My very first love was murdered, and I was trying to find this lost love,” she shares. “Looking into the past…I grew up very poor. With not a lot of great male figures in my life. You start thinking about all the bad things, you know?” 

But she has also opened herself to hope, which frames her defiant spirit. “I’m in a good state of life where I know myself,” she smiles, “And I will not stay quiet now.”

Instagram: clay_mundo

Article originally appeared in Issue 13.3 Perform  (Print SOLD OUT)

The first thing you may notice about Stephen Longoria is his gentle Texan accent. In his friendly manner, he’ll be quick to tell you about the craft of printmaking, his love of drawing his cat—or a one-eyed version of it—or his affection for his Texas hometown just north of the Mexican border.

While he doesn’t display anger on the outside, he says it drives his creative process. “Sometimes I get angry, and I just need to draw.” His stark black drawings tell the story about the sardonic state of mind in which he creates his art.

Today, Stephen is the San Jose–based owner and operator of Skull on Fire Studio, a printmaking shop downtown specializing in producing T-shirts and totes for artists and musicians. He describes his business as a punk rock business that operates more like a tattoo shop than a print studio, and he keeps his prices low to support his clients. “I try to keep it non-commercial,” he says before checking himself. “I guess that sounds pretty hipster.”

Screen printing is a complex process and supplies are expensive. It involves applying a photosensitive emulsion to a fine mesh and repeating the process for each layer of color added to a print. One mistake can cause your profit for a project to shrink drastically. Because of its cost, it’s a dying art in the Bay Area. On-demand digital printing is cheaper and faster, but it lacks the craftsmanship and vibrancy of hand-screened prints. The craft, he says, motivates him more than the money.

While his business takes up most of his time these days, Stephen still finds time to draw and make prints of his own art. His Instagram feed reveals his stylized approach to snakes, eagles, and ancient warriors. There’s no real inspiration behind his art—he just draws what he feels. “I try to draw what makes me happy. Sometimes I wake up and say I’m gonna draw snakes today, and that’s what I do.”

There’s a fantastical style to Stephen’s art that’s reminiscent of both Aztec pictographs and traditional Japanese illustrations. While he doesn’t actively emulate these styles, it makes sense that a kid who grew up in a Texas border town in an age in which pop culture was dominated by anime may subconsciously blend these aesthetics. In one drawing, a sharp-cornered cactus grows from a clay pot. In another, a roaring Godzilla emerges from the sea. 

What he is actively trying to create is art that resonates with music from his teenage years. He says bands like All-American Rejects and Death from Above were defining for him as a young artist, and the feeling of that music is something Stephen tries to capture in his art. 

His drawings—at least the ones he’s shared—are mostly monochrome, which makes them easier to print. While they look like they’re drawn in deep black ink, these days, Stephen is entirely digital. “I’ve given up on ink,” he says. Now, he draws in pencil, then traces the drawings in Illustrator and prints directly onto a film that can be transferred to a screen.

While Stephen is humble about both his art and his business, he has a lot to be proud of. Making a living as an artist in the South Bay is an impressive feat, and Stephen knows where his motivation comes from. “I’m pretty motivated by resentment,” he says again with a friendly laugh. “Being told I can’t do something has gotten me to where I am today.” Instagram: skullonfirestudio

Featured Artist: Kim Meuli Brown

Kim Meuli Brown is an artist and graphic designer whose journey began with a Bachelor of Science in Textile Design from UC Davis. Inspired by nature, Kim’s creations blend traditional textile techniques with contemporary innovation. Her canvas, often cotton, silk, or wool, becomes a testament to the beauty of local flora, adorned with natural dyes and botanical prints. Her current focus on fiber arts celebrates sustainability, weaving a narrative of harmony between humanity and the environment.

Learn more about Silicon Valley Open Studios.

Silicon Valley Open Studios 2024 will take place the first three weekends of May and showcase the studios of over 200 Silicon Valley Artists. Weekend two, May 11-12, will be held in the Mid-Peninsula region, and Weekend three, May 18-19, will be hosted in the South Bay. Thirty-three artists at The Alameda Artworks in San José, including textile artist Kim Meuli Brown, will open their studios to guests on May 18 and 19.

Follow Kim at:

René Lorraine Schilling-Sears, a graduate of San Jose State with a BFA in Pictorial Arts, has moved from oils to watercolor and pen, giving a voice to what she sees.

Was there a time when you had that “aha moment,” when you released your voice?

Yeah, absolutely. I had an instructor when I was at San Jose State who really got through to me. It was one of those things where you’re working on a painting and you finally see something that you hadn’t felt for decades. It finally just happened on the canvas.

Do you remember what that painting was? 

Yes, I still have it too. I was working on my BFA show. My whole series was about body art, tattoos, piercings, things like that. That’s what I had been working on for the last two years at that point. It was a single fingernail. I was working on painting a hand. It was a single fingernail, and it was like, “Oh, this is what I want to do forever.” 

When you look back at that piece, what’s your feeling about it?

I am in love with that piece so much that I feel like I’ll never be able to top it for myself. I’ve been offered a lot of money for it. There’s no way. It feels like my firstborn child, because I had such a connecting moment to it. It’s going to stay with me forever. 

What was that about? Was it the type of technique that you used? 

That’s hard. That’s a hard thing to put into words. At that moment, I felt I finally believed in myself with the title of “artist.” I was satisfied with the work that I’d done to the point where I felt like I could finally own the title artist, because that is always a struggle.

When you grow up in the Bay Area with a lot of amazing artists, you see so many paintings and artworks and people really making it happen. You think, “How am I ever going to compete with them?” 

You have three different styles in your portfolio: oil, pencil, and watercolor. Which is your favorite?

I prefer watercolor and ink, which is crazy, because when I started painting, I never thought that I would do watercolor or watercolor portraits. It was the furthest thing that I thought I would ever be interested in. I was always just an oil lover and a canvas lover, but I think there’s something very intimate about sitting down with watercolor and ink, something that seems more personal. I like that. Oil is fun, too, but at this point to me…I’m just not personally as connected to it anymore.

Your watercolor ink portraits have a very unique aspect, with the subjects’ faces missing. I hear it is because of a degenerative eye disorder, is that right?

I have neurological issues. I have a cyst in my brain that causes balance issues and visual disturbances. The left side of my temporal lobe fires at half the rate that the right side does. There’s some disconnect there. Also, I have holes in my vision.

Some days, it’s like I’m looking through a wheel of Swiss cheese. It started in 2011. The doctors still are not really sure what it is. The holes in my vision, they’re not really sure where it stems from. They think it’s related to the other things that are happening. It’s really difficult to explain to people and hard to convey what I am going through, so I really wanted to put that on paper.

Why are you choosing this particular medium—pen and watercolor—for these portraits?

One of the reasons I do pen and watercolor in the same piece is because I feel a lot of times when I can’t see very well, it’s hard to feel grounded. I use the watercolor to show and convey that whole feeling that things are happening. When you work with watercolor, things will just happen that you can’t pick up off that paper. You can’t wipe it off. That’s how I feel with these spots in my eyes. They’re not going away. I can’t wipe them away. The hard lines that I use, that are more pencil or Micron pen, are my way of conveying those moments that are calm, that say “Everything is in place.” That’s how I’m trying to meld both of those together.

How does it feel then, when people are attracted to your work and find out your story? Is there a little bit of insecurity or concern? Are you wanting to share it? 

Personally, I feel that things are less scary when you talk about them. On the one hand, I wouldn’t put the story out there, but on the other, when I did the show here, I titled it with the condition that I have. It gave me the chance to talk to 30 people—strangers—about it.

Putting it out there is easier because when I talk about things, I feel like they’re less scary. They don’t seem as crazy. At the same time, I don’t want my work to be all about my condition. I don’t want people to only pay attention to it because the story has a really personal health issue involved.

I imagine you don’t want your health issue to be the reason people notice your work, but it is part of your story. I was very attracted to your work, knowing that you had neurological issues.

It’s hard. It’s a hard balance. I think, for the most part, people…like you just said, you liked it before you knew the story. I hope that continues, but at the same time, it’s also really cool. I’ve met some cool people who have similar conditions. They can see that within the art. They can relate to it.

You’ve had this current series. What are you working on now? What’s next for you?

I’m still expanding this series, but I want to bring more medical devices and machinery into it. I have a show coming up in the fall in San Francisco, so I’ve got about eight months or so to finish this body of work, or at least a couple new pieces. That’s what I really want to do. I want to bring the medical equipment side to it, just to evoke more of those feelings, and get more people to be able to connect with the pieces. A lot of times a portrait is a portrait, and you need something else in there to show or help along the thought process. I think the juxtaposition might be just right.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned in life through your painting?

What I always come back to is a moment in college, where a professor told me to eliminate something from a painting, and I did it without even thinking. I hated that painting from that moment on. I could never get that piece back to what I wanted it to look like.

I always go back to that moment, in all sorts of experiences, and remember to always stop and think and not take somebody else’s opinion without really figuring out if it’s right for you. It’s interesting that I learned that through painting. 


See more of René’s work on here wbesite

And, on here Instagram @renelorraine

This article originally appeared in Issue 10.4 “Profiles”

Also available on Spotify, Apple Podcast, and YouTube.

Episode #112 – Zach Waldren, Tailored By Design LLC

Zach Waldren founded his consulting business, Tailored by Design LLC (TBD), with a passion for customized user experiences. 

As a kid, Zach loved going to Disneyland, where he noticed commonplace items in the park, such as trash cans, were designed to blend in with their themed surroundings. Inspired by Dinsney’s level of attention to design detail, Zach became interested in tailor-made user experiences, ultimately leading him to open his own consulting business in 2018. TBD helps clients, from restaurant operations to hospitality services, achieve their business goals by curating their customers’ experiences. 

Zach sees San Jose as his own Disneyland, with challenges in hospitality and endless potential in the exciting and vibrant scene. Zach focuses on culinary experiences since food has a unique way of translating culture into experiences and stories. He believes food is a chance for San Jose to differentiate itself as a city through its cultural diversity. Zach connects his various experiences in marketing, hospitality, and DJing nightclubs to analyze the problems faced by his clients. 

Nowadays, food can be viewed as both nourishment and entertainment. Zach hopes to leverage both aspects of the culinary experience by producing Silicon Valley’s Taco Throwdown. Zach believes there’s no better way to bring people together than having 20 tacos in a building on the weekend of Cinco de Mayo. The plan is for people to enjoy tacos while cheering on a competition that will crown a Taco Throwdown champion.

Join Zach Waldren on May 4 from 11am to 5pm at Blanco Urban Venue for the FIRST Silicon Valley Taco Throwdown. 

In our conversation, we discuss Zach Waldren’s 20-year background as a wrestler and referee, his experiences as a DJ through his college years, and his belief in family and Christianity. 

Follow Zach on his personal Instagram, Zach.Waldren

Matt Kelsey, Printers’ Guild Member & Jim Gard, Chairman of the Printers’ Guild

For twenty-two years, volunteers at the San Jose Printers’ Guild have kept the art of printing alive.

In a world where books can be downloaded in digital format and sending messages is as easy as tapping on a phone screen, Jim Gard, chairman of the Printers’ Guild, and guild member Matt Kelsey, shed light on how the printing press serves as a reminder of the days when communication required a concentrated effort and skilled craftsmanship.

Jim, you have been with the Printers’ Guild since the beginning. Could you share a little history on how the Printers’ Guild came about?

Jim: The Print Shop exhibit opened in the ’70s, and although the San Jose Historical Museum had some volunteers, they worked independently and lacked organization. In 1992, the museum staff, as well as some of the printers, met and formed the Printers’ Guild to provide consistent printing demonstrations to the visiting public. From then on, the group has met monthly, maintaining a shop volunteer schedule, creating, printing exhibits, and repairing and acquiring equipment.

What types of equipment are used in the Print Shop?

Jim: Letterpress. We have small, table-top Kelsey presses, a Chandler & Price Pilot press, and some cylinder proof presses. But our main attraction is the F.M. Weiler Liberty press, circa 1884. This heavy floor model press gives visitors a close-up look at the workings of a treadle-powered “jobber.”

What are demonstrations at the Print Shop like?

Matt: Members of the San Jose Printers’ Guild continue to practice the skills mastered by printers of old, using some 200 cases of metal and wood type, including many rare and antique designs. The best experience, though, is when we put the Pilot press right up to the railing and let visitors operate it themselves.

Matt, you are the lead organizer for this year’s Bay Area Printers’ Fair, an event that celebrates letterpress printing and related arts. Does this event bring us back to the roots of graphic design?

Matt: Yes, the Printers’ Fair takes us back to the time when the printer was the graphic designer. The printer knew what sizes and styles of type were available in the shop and knew how to combine them to create the right look for the customer. A lot of graphic designers today really enjoy getting away from the computer and getting back to the roots of handling handset type and impressing ink into paper instead of manipulating pixels on a screen.

For visitors and Guild members alike, I am sure there is a bit of nostalgia that one feels when observing and participating in the printing process. What do Guild members and visitors take away from this shared historical experience?

Jim: The Guild brings together these enthusiasts with a purpose, which they can share with each other and the public.

Matt: Guild members enjoy keeping alive the “black art” using the same basic technology pioneered by Gutenberg over 500 years ago. I have taught a number of workshops at the Print Shop, and I am always energized by the enthusiasm and creativity of the students. In one day, they learn to handset type and arrange a short poem or quotation into an attractive layout. Everyone goes home with a feeling of creativity and accomplishment.

With technology constantly advancing, what does the art of printing serve as a reminder of?

Matt: The museum Print Shop replicates a typical print shop of the early 1900s, where local businesses would go when they needed flyers, stationery, business cards, labels, and myriad other forms of ink on paper. Now we think of a “printer” as a machine connected to the computer, that quickly produces copies on command; a hundred years ago, a “printer” was a skilled craftsman who consulted with the customer about their printing needs, found the right sizes and styles of type to design and compose the text from handset metal type, printed a proof for the customer’s approval, and then carefully prepared the job for press.

Jim: The art of printing serves as a reminder of the labor that was once involved in communication. With all this handset type, there used to be a lot more people involved: specialists in typesetting, press operation, proofreading.

Matt: It is a reminder that, back then, printing was an act of freedom. In the words of journalist A. J. Liebling, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

instagram: sjprintersguild
facebook: sjprintersguild
twitter: printersguild

Article originally appeared in Issue 6.2 “Device”
Print Version SOLD OUT

SVCreates Content Emerging Artist 2023

Fish swim, birds fly,
and human beings create.

In an unassuming suburban garage in South San Jose, a music studio is tucked in parallel to a parked car, storage totes, and hanging bicycles. Often, you can find a poet getting active in the studio, chipping away at refining his craft, hoping to carve Corinthian columns from a career in acting and music. This creative headquarters is home to Davied Morales, AKA Activepoet.

Davied Morales is a San Jose–born actor and rapper who has worked for numerous Bay Area theater companies, appeared in television shows, commercials, and various short films, and amassed tens of thousands of followers across social media. The COVID-19 pandemic allowed Davied to focus on the “why” behind his work. He explains, “I was able to learn more about the business and understand why I want to do this work. I want to inspire people who look like me, and let people know that they can do it too.”

Raised by a single mother after his father’s untimely passing, Davied had to grow up quickly at a young age. He notes, “I know what a bad day looks like. I always try to be extra positive because I know life’s hard.” His work’s light-hearted joy and humor can be traced back to the shows he watched as a kid. He observes, “Shows like Kenan and Kel were huge for me. They represented a space for being goofy on TV. I loved it because there wasn’t as much violence or the huge political problems you see in our community. We’re always getting killed on TV. We can be anything we want, so why can’t people of color just have friends and tell cool stories about what we can do?”

“Everyone deserves to be creative. Creativity is a fundamental truth for all of us. We say in our work that fish swim, birds fly, and human beings create. That’s what we do.”

Along with manifesting positivity through his craft, Davied also works as an improv facilitator for San Jose’s Red Ladder Theatre Company, a social justice company with whom he leads workshops for men and women experiencing incarceration. When talking about his work in California prisons, Davied adds, “Everyone deserves to be creative. Creativity is a fundamental truth for all of us. We say in our work that fish swim, birds fly, and human beings create. That’s what we do. The best feedback we’ve received was from an attendee who said that for two hours, it felt like they weren’t in prison. I want our participants to know they’re still in touch with their childhood selves. There are bright spots in this world, and I want them to see that.” Moving forward, Davied is developing a catalog of music and content focused on sustainable production and consistency that fans of his work can rely on. The work he puts in now is meant to create an infrastructure that will support more extensive projects in the future. You can follow Activepoet on all platforms for valuable information, a behind-the-scenes look at the industry, and something to make you laugh. Davied Morales continues to prioritize art in his life and wants to make art a priority in the Bay Area.

Instagram: activepoet

Also featured in issue 9.3 “Future” 2017

Pick-Up Party 16.2, “Sight and Sound,” was the 12th anniversary celebration of Content Magazine featuring the innovative and creative people of Silicon Valley. The party was an ambitious collaboration among venue host Creekside Socials, event designers Asiel Design, Filco Events, and Illuminate SJ Now!!!, along with supplied food by Barya Kitchen ,and the dozen or so creatives featured in the magazine, who displayed their work.

Creekside Socials is a Google project managed by Jamestown, activating San Jose’s Downtown West. They have a full lineup of community events and workshops scheduled for 2024.

Our Pick-Up Party was the first event of its kind held inside Creekside Socials and was a fantastic opportunity to activate the warehouse at 20 Barack Obama Blvd. With support from our partners, we brought in a stage, lighting, and projectors that illuminated the sights and sounds of Issue 16.2. We even introduced our partnership with Needle to the Groove Records, which made our long-dreamt-of flexi-disc magazine insert a reality.

Guests were treated to a live studio pop-up hosted by Brittany Bradley, a wet plate collodion photographer, performances by 2024 Poet Laureate and Creative Ambassador Yosimar Reyes featuring Ivan Flores of Discos Resaca, Srividya Eashwar of Xpressions Dance, singer-songwriter Amara Lin, Needle to the Groove Records, and Kid Lords who closed out the night. In addition, six visual artists featured in the magazine displayed their work, including 2024 Creative Ambassadors Deborah Kennedy and Rayos Magos, Shaka Shaw, and Girafa. 

This evening brought together various genres and mediums of music and visuals, exposing individuals to creativity they may not have been otherwise exposed to. Our goals of creating a magazine real-life experience were highlighted by our fantastic community of creatives, supporters, and partners who are essential to Content Magazine’s future.

We at Content Magazine are grateful to all the artists, partners, members, and community for your support in this project to give visibility to the artists of Santa Clara County.

We hope to see you again on May 17th at the West Valley College School of Art and Design for Pick-Up Party 16.3, “Perform.”

Event Photographer: Kinley Lindsey 

Event Videographer: StageOne Creative Spaces

Event Musicians: Kids LordsAmara 林Xpressions-Dance of India, and Needle to the Groove

Featured Artists: Britt BradleyVictor AquinoSteven Free, GirafJulie MeridiaDeborah KennedyRayos Magos, and Shaka Shaw

Event Partners: Creekside Socials,  Asiel DesignFilco Events, Illuminate SJ Now!!!, and Barya Kitchen

Issue 16.2, “Sight and Sound” Featuring

Musician – Amara 林 | Videographer – Victor Aquino | Photographer – Britt Bradley | Rapper – Chow Mane | RecordLabel – Discos Resaca Collective | Dancer – Srividya Eashwar | Artist – Girafa | Rap Crew – Kid Lords | Photographer – Josie Lepe | Artist – Julie Meridian | Record Shop and Label – Needle to the Groove Records | Illustrator – Shaka Shaw | 2024 San José Creative Ambassadors – Dancer – Alice Hur – Artist – Pantea Karimi – Artist – Deborah Kennedy – Artist – Rayos Magos – Storyteller – Yosimar Reyes 

SVCreates Content Emerging Artist 2023

Such is Life

A wheat-pasted poster on a San Francisco sidewalk may be commonplace for 99 percent of passersby. For photographer Dan Fenstermacher, the details caught his eye from across the street: an ambiguous lower body clothed in shorts and walking shoes—leg tattoos exposed—standing on a trail with marketing copy that read “on the path to zero impact.” Dan also noticed a burly, shirtless man thirty feet away walking towards the poster; he had patchy body hair on his chest that shared an uncanny resemblance to a smiley face. Dan hurried across the street to catch the convergence of the two. The photo he captured juxtaposes a hipster on a hike with a shirtless man on a city street—both of whom are uniquely getting in touch with nature—and puts a humorous spin on the sustainability marketing technique of showing people experiencing the outdoors. The composition plays with body level, placing the lower body on the poster in line with the man’s upper half. While any similarity between those two figures could be viewed as an abstract coincidence, Dan sees potential in layering and capturing dissimilar details with eye-catching composition to create something new, authentic, and often funny. 

Dan Fenstermacher is a burgeoning photographer with internationally recognized work. He’s also a professor and chair of the West Valley College photography program, a contributor to The San Francisco Standard, and a volunteer photographer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Dan’s projects blend street photography and photojournalism with clever juxtaposition; his photos are most known for their vibrant colors, use of flash, and humorous composition.

Originally from Seattle, Washington, Dan obtained a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Idaho before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in marketing. While there, he realized that advertising has less to do with creative ad concepts and more with market research, data analysis, and spreadsheets. Dan recalls, “I hated it. I started taking photography classes at night through a local community college while doing those advertising jobs. I had a roommate at the time who went off to Korea to teach English, so I figured I could do the same thing.” Dan went on to use his community college photo credits to teach fine art in China, aided by student translators. Later, he enrolled in a graduate photography program at San Jose State University.

“Traveling makes me feel alive. When you experience a new culture, it’s like getting to experience life again for the first time.”

Dan’s photography is rooted in detail and captures reality at the core of often misunderstood situations. “I have always been an observer,” he says. “I tend to notice things that most people wouldn’t consider. I like to combine street photography with journalistic documentary themes.” Each of Dan’s projects captures a range of topics and manages to juxtapose conception with reality. His project documenting seniors in Costa Rica contrasts American society’s fear of aging with the joy and experience seen on the faces of the elderly. His “Streets to the Dirt” project documents Black cowboys in Richmond, California, and shows that cowboys are not just White men in movies. Dan continues to broaden his photo expeditions, explaining that “traveling makes me feel alive. When you experience a new culture, it’s like getting to experience life again for the first time.” Dan’s career as a photography professor allows him to embrace his passion while surrounded by inspiring up-and-coming student artists. Dan aligns his trips with his school schedule and plans to travel to Guadalajara, Mexico, to document mariachi culture. His next goal is to produce his first self-published photo book. 

Instagram: danfenstermacher 

Dalia Rawson is the South Bay’s authority on all things ballet. A longtime performer with the now-defunct Cleveland San Jose Ballet Company, the Saratoga native has performed for numerous companies in addition to holding backstage management positions with the Silicon Valley Ballet. With the closure of that company, Rawson founded The New Ballet School in March of this year. Less than a year later, the school has grown to over 300 students and is the only school on the West Coast that’s been certified by the American Ballet Theatre. The New Ballet School’s first production this winter, featuring Rawson’s choreography, will be a San Jose–inspired rendition of The Nutcracker

“It’s been since 2006 that I last danced professionally. Of course, I miss it, but the career doesn’t last forever. I was just really lucky to work with people I looked up to. It’s been 11 years now, but I certainly get a lot of joy and inspiration from teaching young people and working as a choreographer and director. Our newest production is the San Jose Nutcracker, which tells the classic story with local inspiration. Set in the city around 1905, it will feature a glowing replica of the historic San Jose Electric Light Tower, as well as the historic skyline. It’s something I’m really excited about.” | Instagram: thenewballetschool

Podcast with Dalia in 2020

Listen and watch on Spotify | YouTube | Vimeo | Listen on Apple Podcast

Trevor Jones is a family man, building designer, and co-owner of Minnow Arts Gallery in Santa Cruz, California. Trevor was born and raised in Cupertino before studying economics and international studies during his undergrad and earning a master’s in architecture from the University of Oregon. Trevor describes the 15 years he lived in Portland, Oregon, as the “cauldron of his life as a creative person.” Inspired by Portland’s DIY art, design, music, and skateboarding scene, he imbued collaborative and process-oriented principles into SpaceCamp Studio, his design-build practice where he works as principal designer and general contractor. 

Trevor moved to Santa Cruz in the early 2010s to continue his work at SpaceCamp, raise his family, and, as a surfer, live a coastal lifestyle. He met Minnow Arts Co-Owner Christie Jarvis through a mutual friend and artist, Jeremy Borgeson. Christie, a landscape architect, ceramicist, and filmmaker, was looking for office space, and Trevor had an office in the barrel aging warehouse of Humble Sea Brewing. It didn’t work out for them there, but it led Trevor and Christie to look for an office together. They eventually found and leased the space that became the Minnow Arts Gallery.

Trevor and Christie began hosting exhibitions that featured work from friends and artists they were connected with. Since then, Minnow Arts has been working to create an inclusive and supportive gallery focused on supporting the local art scene in Santa Cruz and giving opportunities to local and regional artists. Rather than having a strict mission statement, Minnow Arts stays true to its DIY roots and takes a more flexible approach to exploring what the space can be through different shows and events. They also aim to make exhibiting art more approachable and demystified for artists. Trevor sees his role as a “companion” to artists.

In our conversation, Trevor shares his approach to building design, reflections on the journey that led him to co-owning a gallery, and advice for anyone hoping to ‘do it themselves.’

Join Christie and Trevor at Minnow Arts Gallery on Friday, January 5th, for First Friday Santa Cruz as they open a retrospective exhibition featuring artwork from Good Knife Studio Creative Director Juan Llorens, a Buenos Aires-based artist who designs and illustrates work for Humble Sea Brewing’s cans, bottles, and marketing materials. Frank Scott Krueger from Humble Sea Brewing is collaborating with Juan to curate the show.

IG: minnow.arts

Check out First Friday Santa Cruz for their entire lineup of participating galleries. 

Wisper’s life resembles an uncanny stack of page-turners. Conversations with him dredge up metaphors, tuned specifically to the relationship between identity and outcome. Subjective as art and truth may be, the sublime coincidences within his experiences hint at more.

As teenagers, Wisper and his best friends—Sno, Poe, Shen Shen, and Bizr—formed the intersection of two arts groups: Together We Create, a collective of muralists (est. 1985), and LORDS Crew (Legends of Rare Designs, est. 1986), a graffiti crew whose members grew out of San Jose and drew international attention. For this tight group of young, talented artists, the potential for fame was palpable. But certain threads split the chapters of their lives into unraveled dichotomies. For Wisper, a path of criminality handed him a prison sentence of 26 to life—ultimately, an unknowable length of time for truth, beauty, justice, and their rivals to battle through his mind like
restless gods.

He vividly remembers the first time he caught injustice red-handed. As the middle sibling in his mother’s home at the time, it baffled him that after his father’s death, social security payments owed to his mother—$300 per child—couldn’t bring the family clothes, food, or rent installments. He and his brothers were eating rice every day that summer. Then one night, as he performed his usual chore of cleaning his stepfather’s car, he found Burger King wrappers. Claims didn’t match the evidence. 


“If you can learn how to operate from a place of peace while creating art, you can learn how to operate from a place of peace in all aspects of
your life.” _Wisper

There was little he could do about it, other than rebel. As a creative kid with a knack for detail, Wisper looked for his identity in spaces where originality shined. In the world of hip-hop, among b-boys, DJs, and rappers, Wisper was hooked by the wave of graffiti that made its way over from the East Coast, bringing with it a culture that admired innovation. As the LORDS Crew formed and grew its membership, some of his friends and fellow founding members went to vocational school to pursue
graphic design.

But for Wisper, gang membership stood out as the most attractive option. “Everything I was seeking—unconditional love, loyalty, recognition, notoriety, reputation, education—they were giving it.” His gift for teaching was cultivated by their discipline. He could come up with illustrations and analogies to help someone else learn and memorize the codes of membership, without having to write a single word.

The last year Wisper did graffiti was 1988. The following year he was arrested. Once inside prison, faced with a life sentence, he found no reason to change. To survive, he leveraged his street education and climbed the ranks until he was running the yard. The attention and his gang affiliation eventually sent him to solitary confinement in 1994, with other men in solitary confinement “deemed incorrigible.” 

In the monotony, Wisper contemplated the value of his life. His path into crime had been a gradual progression of “becoming more and more empty.” As he explains today, “People who commit crimes don’t understand value. If I steal from you, if I vandalize your house…I don’t value you as a person. If my life doesn’t mean something, no one else’s does either.” Even a cup, he reasoned, had worth. It was created for a purpose. Yet like a cup left on the shelf, here he was, a human being locked away in sensory deprivation. If his life had purpose, it couldn’t come from this environment, not from his upbringing, his heritage, or ideologies—which he had been willing to die for. And which he was still affiliated with.

He knew he wanted to change, but change only began when he mustered the courage to revoke his prison gang status, fully aware of the punishment to follow. 

Wisper credits supernatural intervention in the events that actually occurred once he lost his status. By the code, he should have died in prison—killed by his own cellmate to protect the rest of the gang. But his life was spared. By the law, he should have been rejected for parole. Involvement with prison gangs was deemed a greater offense than the crime that sentenced him in the first place. But the inmates who would have reported him had been removed from the yard weeks before his arrival.

By the time Wisper came home in 2013, nearly 24 years had passed. His former collaborator, Bizr, had written “FREE WISPER TOUR” on every art piece until Bizr’s passing in 2013, eight months before Wisper’s release. Of the friends who had kept in touch with him, Mesngr was the only one still in San Jose, doing art shows. As he slowly readjusted to life back in society, Wisper decided his goal was to “get my art out, make some money, provide for myself and my family.” 

Wisper began looking for opportunities, at times initiating them by reaching out to connections and bringing plywood for the artists to live paint on. As he formed the groundwork to revitalize Together We Create, he also accepted opportunities to speak at high schools and colleges. There were youth who wanted to learn graffiti, and Wisper saw the chance to share about his mistakes so they could make better decisions. 

“That’s where I developed a curriculum of teaching peace,” he explains. Acting from a place of courage is revered, but in that state, fear is still present—“you’re acting in spite of fear.” He teaches his mentees to accept responsibility for where they’re at and to apply a faith-based practice until they can believe in themselves. “If you don’t know who you are, you can’t create unique art.” 

There are still threads to unravel. To this day, he fights to control the blaze of anger that slices through at injustice. Just like in his youth, he feels the pressure to stay on guard, to secure himself and his safety. “After 24 years of living like that, you don’t just come home and start expressing emotions.” But he knows himself, and he values his life. That deep sense of peace is unshakeable. Hanging around Wisper, friends might not notice how calm and collected he is until he laughs—then, they’re caught by the irreversible, unforgettable belly laugh flying out of him.

This year marks nine years since his release—nine years of using his freedom to help youth secure their self-identity. Often called on to speak and share his story, he is in the final stages of publishing three books that he hopes will aid their discernment. Wisper believes that all people hold a sense of justice, beauty, and truth—but an absence of self-identity spawns a perilous emptiness. “If you’re empty your whole life,” he says, “you don’t know what full is.” 

His mission now is to inspire others to create art from a secure sense of identity, free of the pressure to fit a label or hide under a mask. “If you can learn how to operate from a place of peace while creating art,” he promises, “you can learn how to operate from a place of peace in all aspects of your life.” 

As is the case with many a music fanatic, Kia Fay’s intimate relationship with sound stretches past the point of tangible memory. She remembers learning rhythm (and math) from beating on pieces of cardboard as a child, of singing practically her whole life, and the music of Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, and Beastie Boys being her first musical totems.

Coincidentally, it was her love for the immortal MJ that first got her on stage with Ash Maynor and Ghost & the City (GATC). They needed a singer for a Halloween show, and with “Thriller” on the set list, Fay jumped at the chance to sing her idol’s music. “I was like, ‘I get to wear a costume, I get to sing MJ. This is all golden,’ ” she fondly recalls. “I didn’t realize that was an audition of sorts.” That guest spot was the first collaboration in what’s now been a six-year journey with the group, whose sound features a brooding musical stew of soulful, jazzy, and electronic components.

The Time EP—which earned the band accolades from Afropunk and Bust magazines and slots opening for Hiatus Kaiyote and the Internet, has brought the brightest attention yet to GATC, whose latest album is the result of, in Fay’s words, an “executive decision to do only what we wanted in its pure form.” It’s their first work to feature Fay’s full creative input and the most direct outgrowth of her “mind-fi” with Maynor, the term for their near-telepathic musical connection. “I don’t fit specifically into one box or another in a lot of respects, so it’s cool to finally be able to make music where I don’t need to try to anymore,” notes Fay with a laugh.

Accepting authenticity rather than fighting it is a huge theme in Fay’s story. Despite years in choirs, she noticed that she never got to solo until she was at UC Berkeley singing with the female a cappella group the California Golden Overtones. It was a refreshing change for her voice—full-bodied, emotive, and powerful—to take the spotlight. Her voice feels like GATC’s secret ingredient, with the music seemingly shaped around her distinct delivery.

Yet music hasn’t been her only outlet for authenticity. Since relocating to San Jose, she’s also established herself as the Curl Consultant, advocating for clients to celebrate their hair in its natural state rather than modifying it to conform to societal standards. “I joke that it’s driven by stubbornness, but it seemed unacceptable to me that in a space as diverse as San Jose, with as many different permutations and beautiful combinations of humans that we have, there weren’t more folks dedicated to encouraging people to exist in their natural state as it relates to their hair,” says Fay.

“I don’t fit specifically into one box or another in a lot of respects, so it’s cool to finally be able to make music where I don’t need to try to anymore.”

She first started working with hair out of necessity. Fay spent time doing theater, where she became the de facto stylist because no one could properly style her hair. However, she never saw the trade as a viable career option until her move to San Jose propelled her to be the change and to establish a space the city desperately needed. “The bulk of the feedback I’ve received has been that the work I do is liberating,” admits Fay. “That’s the best-case scenario for me: freeing anybody from a restriction they thought they had that was only an artificial restriction. Hopefully I can plant that seed for other folks, and they in turn will stand as beacons wherever they are.”

As a person of mixed descent who struggled over the years with where she fit in, Fay’s now using her two creative pursuits to help others recognize and celebrate their own unique tastes and identities through communion and connection. “We have to stop being so wedded to [the idea that] ‘This is what beauty looks like. This is what music looks like,’ and just accept beauty when we see it and hopefully foster what comes naturally to people and stop encouraging them to resist their more authentic selves, in any capacity,” she says.

Ghost and the City
Facebook: gatcmusic
Instagram: ghost_andthecity
Twitter: ghostandthecity

Curl Consultant
Facebook: kiafaystyles
Instagram: kiafaystyles

This article originally appeared in Issue 11.1 “Sight and Sound”

Check out Ghost & the Ctiy’s Music on Spotify

Tracing Roots: Trinh Mai Finds the Beauty in Life through Honoring Cultural Heritage

Heart first, Trinh Mai aims to bring people together through art. Finding comfort in
color and peace in faith, her multidisciplinary works honor her Vietnamese cultural
heritage and shine a light on larger stories
of shared humanity.

“We have to draw strength from our community work, the people we love, art, and hope. We are drawing from a transcendent source. All beauty comes from that process of discovery.”

-Trinh Mai

Trinh Mai’s love of art is deep, rooted in family history, connecting past and present. As Trinh describes, she thinks in branches—uncovering stories—in search of healing, hope, and community. Her art is a prayer, a process of discovery, honoring her cultural heritage and family.

Shaped by her family’s experience escaping Vietnam during the War in 1975, Trinh uses art as a language to connect hearts to the stories of loved ones. Having passed through many countries, including the Philippines and Guam, on their journey to the United States, Trinh’s family arrived in Pennsylvania at one of four refugee camps in the US at the time. Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Trinh moved to Southern California at a young age and lived with extended family while her parents moved to Silicon Valley during the ’80s tech boom to find work. Trinh attributes her creative energy to her parents, who were both very meticulous, creative, and clever. Her dad nurtured a green thumb and loved cultivating bonsai trees. Trinh’s love of nature and desire to connect to the land threads through her work in symbolism and materiality. Trinh co-creates her art with history, informed by the heirlooms and stories of her family and the deep feeling of responsibility to honor her culture and share that love with the wider community. 

“One of the things that the elders and people in general fear is being forgotten. And not just that they are forgotten, but their history is forgotten, the history of [their] people, the ways that [they] arrived here, traditions, food, family lineages, and the sacrifices they made. What a shame it would be to forget about the sacrifices that were made for us to be here. My fear is that their fear will be realized. It’s both a blessing and a burden to carry this responsibility to share. But one of the things that has encouraged the elders through my art is not just that they see themselves and I’m honoring their lives, but also knowing that the younger generation cares and wants to carry on the history. When families see heritage being passed down and honored, it takes that fear away. And it’s not just descendants that are inheriting that culture, it’s also the wider community that we are sharing it with.”

Trinh’s favorite mediums are oil paint and charcoal, but oil on canvas is her first true love and how she found her voice. Trinh’s love of oil painting began at San Jose State University (SJSU), creating abstract paintings. Painting on large canvases felt like creating an all-encompassing environment that she could step into. During her studies at SJSU, Trinh encountered a Mark Rothko painting at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Initially skeptical of his work, seeing it in person was a very pivotal and transformational experience for her. It opened her eyes to how art could convey spiritual essence through color and form. Finding herself standing in front of the Rothko painting, Trinh was “consumed by the cadmium red.” Describing the experience as deeply real, it opened her heart to what she wanted her work to accomplish.

“I wanted to make paintings like that, so true to what they are that they speak for themselves. I would like for whatever spirit is living inside the painting to speak. I don’t need to be a part of that conversation, but I think maybe my role is to have an intimate relationship with the work, and then the work has its own relationship with the viewer.” 

Trinh describes her relationship to art as “salvation to the fullest,” born out of a desperate need to find comfort through life’s hardships. Through abstract art, Trinh found her footing and fell in love with the comfort, light, and life that art brought about.

“As I started maturing in the art and really taking it seriously, I realized it’s teaching me to see, the art of observation. I realized that was the main lesson, and once I embraced that, I saw how free I could feel painting boxes and spheres.”

As a multidisciplinary artist, Trinh describes her use of various mediums as a beautiful and fulfilling symbiotic relationship, with each medium teaching her unique lessons. She appreciates the labor and lessons that each provides, allowing her to excavate ideas by digging deeply through experimentation. For example, stitching teaches her to slow down, be careful, and have patience. From painting portraits to writing poetry, Trinh creates her work from a place of deep intentionality. Art has opened doors for Trinh to speak to universal truths of unified humanity. “I started discovering things about my family history that are shared by so many other people, not just Vietnamese refugees, but people all over the world.” Motivated by a desire to serve the community, Trinh finds purpose in discovering the beauty of life that can arise despite tragedy. “I feel that my responsibility is to offer life to stories to give comfort to other people.” Art gives life back to objects and stories and sows seeds for future generations. Sharing these stories cultivates a shared cultural heritage. 

Driven to discover what it means to have an intimate relationship with God, Trinh is deeply thankful for her faith and the peace and purpose that it brings her in daily life. For Trinh, it all comes back to an essential question: “In the midst of life’s trials, where do we turn for strength? We have to draw strength from our community work, the people we love, art, and hope. We are drawing from a transcendent source. All beauty comes from that process of discovery.”
Instagram: @trinhmaistudios

Japanese Pastry and Desserts

IKUKA pastry and dessert shop at State Street Market in Los Altos takes its name from the first syllables of the Japanese words imo (sweet potato), kuri (chestnut), and kabocha (pumpkin). The goal of its creator and general manager, Miyuki Ozawa, is to bring the namesake flavors popular in Japanese baking to the South Bay.

Miyuki created the idea of IKUKA alongside her mother, Kuniko Ozawa, a prolific Bay Area restauranteur. In addition to Kuniko’s five other South Bay Japanese American restaurants, including Orenchi Ramen (also at State Street Market), Sumika Grill, & Ogiku Kaiseki, Miyuki is putting her stamp on Japanese cuisine in the Bay. IKUKA offers the deliciously starchy and subtle sweetness of imo, kuri, and kabocha as well as other favorite deserts from Japan such as the beloved Mont Blanc, burnt basque cheesecake, mini croissants, and mochi bread in hopes that patrons can experience delicate texture and sweetness of authentic Japanese pastries that bring out the natural flavors of the ingredients.

For more info, visit

Try IKUKA at Pick-Up Party 16.1 This Thursday, November 30th, 6p-9p at State Street Market. Content members will receive a complimentary taste as a toast to their support of South Bay Creatives.

Check out this other video featuring The Good Salad.


Video by Nirvan Vijaykar @whosnirvan

San Jose Taiko
Roy and PJ Hirabayashi

Not many folks can say they have evolved—if not created—a new type of art. But starting in 1973 when Roy Hirabayashi cofounded San Jose Taiko, a professional performing company, Roy and PJ Hirabayashi have cultivated a new Asian-American art form. Taking the traditional rhythms of the taiko—a type of Japanese barrelshaped drum—and infusing Western and other musical influences, San Jose Taiko pioneered the American taiko sound, which has since been met with traditional Japanese approval. The Hirabayashis have performed around the world, receiving countless commendations both for their efforts in cultivating and showcasing a new art form and for consistently advocating for San Jose’s Japantown. These awards include arguably the highest arts honor awarded in the United States—the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship in Folk and Traditional Arts, in 2011—as well as the highly prestigious City of San Jose Cornerstone of the Arts Award, in 2016, for enduring and effective leadership in the arts.

“In the early ’70s we worked with the Buddhist temple in San Jose, and the minister there was really interested in doing something to bring more youth back to his temple. He suggested we look at using the taiko—the Japanese drum—as perhaps a way to do that. So we started with the intention of involving the youth, but it rapidly became more of a community group because people in the area heard about what we were doing and wanted to come check it out and participate. We use the taiko as a tool to organize people, but it has also given us a chance to learn more about our heritage.”

instagram: sanjosetaiko

Episode #103 Carman Gaines, Associate Director of Local Color

When asked to describe the San José art scene, Carman Gaines uses words like ‘passionate, diverse, obsessive, and community oriented.’ One could argue that those words also best describe Carman’s life view and journey to the present. Born and raised in San José, Carman tries to squeeze the most out of life for herself and in honor of her ancestors. Carman has an intentional approach to spending her time and the opportunities she pursues but balances those things by focusing only on what she can control.

Carman studied art history and photography in college, learning its potential to impact lives and document history. However, she accepted early on that photography was not how she wanted to survive in a capitalist world, opting to use it as a form of catharsis and personal growth. That realization did not stop her from popping into different art spaces, dropping off resumes, taking unpaid internships, and commuting to a gallery job in San Francisco for a few years before tenaciously pursuing a position at Local Color that would bring her career in arts administration closer to home. 

In the years since Carman began working for Local Color, she has taken on the role of associate director. Although her work often requires trips to what she calls ‘Grantland,’ a destination of administrative paperwork and potential funding, she relishes the opportunity to provide artists and organizations a platform to impact the community through art.

While Carman supports the art community through her career, she is also working towards a future that involves a farm, airstream, dismantling capitalism, and mutual aid. In her new podcast, ‘Plan and Story,’ Carman sits down with folks in the community to discuss their visions for the future and the sometimes unforeseen road that will take them there.

In our conversation, we discuss Carman’s journey to working for Local Color, her experiences as an artist and arts administrator, and her inspiration and approach to life.

Join Carman this Friday, October 27th, for Local Color’s annual 31 Skulls fundraiser. This fundraiser supports local artists and helps fund this woman-powered organization, fostering connections between artists, people, and places.

RRedemption Boutique owner Tammy Liu has watched the items we buy become increasingly disposable. While a low-priced tee from your local big box might work as a one-off, she believes, a beautiful garment made by hard-working, passionate hands can become a keepsake to treasure forever.

Liu’s mother was a maker. When she and her husband moved to the US from Taiwan for her husband to attend college, they brought everything she had made with them: clothes, curtains, an entire household. They didn’t have the luxury of discarding their belongings to later replace them; nor could they ever replace what Liu’s mother had lovingly made.

When Liu was two years old, her mother made her a plaid velvet dress with lace tulle lining and a Peter Pan collar. Liu says, “The dress that my mom made me—it made my year.” Over time, Liu became more conscious of the meaning behind the items her mother made—this appreciation for scarcity became the root of her buying mantra.

Inspired by her mother’s craft, Liu’s been determined to work in fashion and open her own store since she was a child. After graduating from Cal Poly with a business degree, she began working in a small Bay Area–based boutique as a sales associate. She was soon managing several stores and ready to break out on her own.

“It had always been a solo mission,” says Liu. But then Liu spent a year in Australia, where she met Dave MacGregor-Scholes. Connected by their mutual love of “thrifting,” they discussed Liu’s ideas for her dream clothing store and expanded the concept into a lifestyle emporium, one that would promote quality over disposability and offer ethically, locally made goods instead of generic products.

Back in the US, Liu had to find the right location to make her and MacGregor-Scholes’s vision a reality. While Liu was considering how much capital would be required to launch a startup given pricey Bay Area rents, the downtown Campbell space practically fell into her lap: 1000 square feet of shop space in a prime location on Campbell Avenue.

Liu’s customers endorse her ideals and support local, handmade goods. Says Liu, “The majority of my customers are just like me: 30-somethings who want to feel good about their purchases.”

Documentaries about poor working conditions in clothing factories inspired Liu to research production methods. Wanting to reach artists who could produce merchandise for her space, she started looking for creative craftspeople in California. “I wanted to design a collective space that showcases the talent all around us,” says Liu.

Liu made it her mission to personally meet every artisan and visit his or her workshop. By being selective, she hoped to find people who shared her passion for quality.

When she finally opened in May 2015, she had 40 vendors—now the total is closer to 60. Many of these artists donate a portion of their proceeds back to the community.

All of the bath and body products are fair trade; the display fixtures in the shop were made from reclaimed wood. The unfinished edges and stark geometric shapes echo the simple message of finding value in all kinds of materials.

During her thrift adventures in Australia, Liu developed an eye for good recycled clothing, too. “I don’t shop in department stores,” she says, “because I don’t want what everyone else has.” Her store features a section for recycled clothing that she’s sourced from antiques and estate sales. The racks are filled with men’s and women’s lines that are manufactured in California, using local materials and fabrics.

The positive response she has received from the community so far reinforces why she opened the shop. One customer emailed to praise her excellent sales associate. Liu laughed about this as she’s the only employee, working seven days a week.

The longer the shop has been open, the less research she has had to do. Customers bring in products and vendors. While Liu would like to take some time off occasionally to take her dogs to the beach or catch up on laundry, running Redemption has never felt like work.

“This is the happiest I have ever been,” Liu says. “I am exactly where I wanted to be.”

instagram: redemption_ca
facebook: shopredemption
twitter: redemption_ca

Article originally appeared in Issue 7.4 “Phase”

President Dwight Eisenhower established the sister city program in 1956 to foster global awareness and peaceful relations. A design team from Okayama, Japan, one of San Jose’s sister cities, presents their view of their hometown.

Often called the “Gateway to West Japan,” Okayama is a quiet, modern city that serves as a transportation hub for travelers moving from eastern and central Japan into the further reaches of western Honshu, Shikoku Island, and Kyushu Island. The central area of the city is easy to get around via the well-developed transportation system that features local and high-speed trains, streetcars, buses, taxis, and rent-a-cycles. Incorporated as a city in 1889, when Japan moved from a feudal system to a centralized government system, the city actually has a much longer history which extends back to the Sengoku Period (1467-1603).

Although the surrounding area was and is farmland, the city has played an important part in history and boasts a castle that attracted important political figures in the past, such as the Ikeda clan, who developed the economic and cultural status of the city under their rule between the 17th and 19th centuries. Currently, Okayama Castle attracts only tourists, but it’s considered one of the top castles in the country. The main tower (and most of Okayama city, for that matter) was damaged during WWII when the city was largely destroyed after having been bombed by the US Armed Forces. However, two of the watchtowers survived and have been designated as Important Cultural Properties by the government’s Agency for Cultural Affairs, and the damaged sections have been restored.

Geographically, Okayama falls in the humid subtropical zone: although it does get chilly in the winter months, the summer months can get hot and very humid. Okayama enjoys relatively low rainfall year round and is known as hare-no-kuni, which means “Sun Country.”

While the municipal and the prefectural governments have been working diligently to post multilingual signage around the city, Japanese is the only language spoken and understood by most of the population.

Although there are pockets of history sprinkled throughout the city in neighborhoods that were not damaged by bombing, visitors will want to head to the suburbs to enjoy the city’s best historical features.

Points of Interest
Okayama has many historical points of interest, with Saidaiji Kannon-in being one of the most intriguing. This small, quiet temple dedicated to the Buddhist deity of Kannon is also home to the oldest and largest Naked Man Festival. The 500-year-old festival, in which nearly 10,000 men dressed only in loincloths participate, is held late at night on the third Saturday in February of every year. The men compete for two lucky sticks that also carry a large cash reward for the winners.

The Saijo Inari shrine and temple complex is a great location to visit any time of the year, and boasts the largest torii gate in West Japan. Visible for miles around, the giant torii gate beckons to visitors. The shrine is dedicated to the Shinto fox god Inari, the patron deity of business, which is appropriately ironic as the souvenir shops leading up to the shrine are fantastic in number and variety.

Visitors would also do well to stop in at Kibitsu Shrine, which is located near Saijo Inari. Folklore sets Kibitsu Shrine apart from other shrines: legend holds that a demon’s head buried under the temple causes a cauldron to ring out during fortune-telling ceremonies. The shrine dates from the ninth century and exhibits many unique architectural features, several of which are registered as Important Cultural Properties.

For a taste of fresh, local seafood, stop in at Tontonme in the southern part of the city. This seafood restaurant is known for its sashimi and sushi made from fish harvested from the nearby Seto Inland Sea.

For another healthy option, Okabe in central Okayama is a long-standing tofu shop with attached home-style restaurant. The restaurant has counter seating only and there are only three main menu selections, but you can bet the food will be fresh, delicious, and surprisingly filling.

For secret hideaway dining, Balloom is the place. This elegant and cozy little cafe/restaurant/bar serves up fresh and healthy meals made with ordinary but fine-quality ingredients. Guests can enjoy a selection of fine wines, draft beer, cocktails, drip coffees, herbal teas, and imported sodas. Lunch and dinner are served. Tapas and pinchos are available in the evening.

For shopping, AEON Mall Okayama is a must-visit. Newly completed in December 2014, this shopping mall is one of the largest and top ranking in the country. Visitors can find an array of boutiques, interior shops, restaurants and food courts, a movie theater, and many other shopping options. The wine shop on the first level includes a winetasting vending machine.

Okayama has a number of covered shopping arcades, and Hokancho is one of the older ones. However, a recent influx of young, hip shop owners have breathed new life into this arcade, making it a great place to explore. Check out the eclectic mix of cafes, green grocers, boutiques, book and toy stores, dish supplies, bakeries, etc.

For a relaxing end to the day, stop in at Padang Padang to unwind. This chic little bar in the heart of the city also serves up European-style fusion cuisine selections made from top-quality local and imported ingredients.

Beautiful Places
Any itinerary should certainly include Korakuen. With a history of over 300 years, it is one of the top three traditional gardens in the country, and is well known for its use of “borrowed scenery”: in this case, Okayama Castle becomes part of the garden scenery despite the fact that it is a separate property. The garden is spacious enough to accommodate large groups while still imparting serenity.

Off the beaten track, the beautiful Sogenji Temple pleases the senses at any time of the year. Surrounded by tall trees and Maruyama mountain, this Zen temple of the Rinzai sect is near the city but feels secluded. Zazen sessions are open to the public on Sundays.

Places to Visit in Okayama

Higashi-ku, Saidaijinaka 3-8-8
+81-086-942-2058SAIJO INARI
Kita-ku, Takamatsu Inari 712

Kita-ku, Kibitsu 931
facebook: kibitujinja

Kita-ku, Takamatsu Inari 712

Minami-ku, Wakaba-cho 20-27
Kita-ku, Omote-cho 1-10-1

Kita-ku, Ekimoto-cho 21-13
instagram: balloom2013
facebook: balloom.ny

Kita-ku, Shimoishii 1-2-1
facebook: okayama.aeonmall

Kita-ku, Hokancho 2-chome

Kita-ku, Omote-cho 1-chome 7-10
instagram: padangpadangokayama

Kita-ku 1-5

Naka-ku, Maruyama 1069
facebook: sogenji

Kaigai Connection
We are a small branding company specializing in helping local businesses get their product overseas. We help customers with foreign language support, out-of-country PR, homepage and business document design, and nonnative staffing. We also work with a large, local tourist agency to bring visitors to Okayama and the surrounding prefectures.

instagram: kaigaiconnection
facebook: kaigaiconnection

Article originally appeared in Issue 7.3 Style.

Workouts in San Jose have just become a little more interesting.

Touchstone Climbing has opened a rock-climbing gym downtown. Located at 396 South First Street, The Studio is the only gym of its kind in San Jose, and only one of two in the entire South Bay. It features forty-foot high walls and over 11,000 square feet of climbing terrain.

The Studio takes its name from the classic movie house in which it has been constructed, the Studio Theatre. Long since converted into a nightclub, the building’s large and once brightly lit sign remains above the front entrance. Attractive as a climbing gym because of its large space and high ceilings, the interesting location and classic sign make The Studio unique and help it fit into the environment of downtown San Jose.

Touchstone CEO Mark Melvin and his wife, Debra, have been avid climbers since high school, and according to director of marketing and social media Lauryn Claassen, they often dreamt of creating a home for “climbers who love to climb.”

The Studio was not only built with climbers in mind, but by climbers themselves. Mark Melvin actually welded the walls, and as Claassen points out, “It’s an awesome company. Everyone who works here climbs.” She believes the environment makes it easy for everyone to have a great experience. The last time new member Cody Kraatz climbed was 2010, and he describes himself as “no expert.” He enjoys his workouts because they remind him of the outdoors and “there’s a point to it.” Kraatz admits, “It’s not the tallest set of walls in the area, but because I live downtown, it’s so convenient. I could climb on a first Friday, sauna, yoga, shower, and then hit the street with my friends to check out the music and art on South First.”

The Melvins founded their first gym in 1995, in the Mission District of San Francisco. Before the formation of their company, there were so few indoor climbing options that the new gym hosted the National Championship of the sport within a month of its opening. Touchstone now has seven locations in Northern California, making it the largest indoor rock climbing company in the United States.

There hasn’t been a climbing gym in San Jose for nearly four years, but The Studio isn’t the first venture downtown. In 2003, the company opened Touchstone Climbing and Fitness San Jose, a bouldering-only gym located across from Camera 12, and only about two blocks away from the new gym location. The smaller gym was forced to close in April of 2008 when there simply wasn’t enough room to accommodate all of the gym’s members.

Bouldering differs from the more traditional roped climbing in that it is done almost entirely freeform, or without any climbing gear. Referred to by climbers as “problems,” the bouldering courses don’t reach the extreme heights of the typical roped ones. Climbers can simply let go and fall to the padded floors when they reach the top. Kraatz is impressed with the new space. “Very nice bouldering area, too, catering to all the old guard that used to climb when Touchstone had a place on El Paseo de San Antonio.”

Though the focus is on roped climbing and bouldering, The Studio will offer other fitness options. Yoga classes are already open, and the company is planning kickboxing, Pilates, and core fitness classes as membership increases. Exercise machines have been set up on the second floor, which allows guests to watch climbers as they work out. There are also plans to establish youth classes, summer camps, and climbing teams in San Jose as soon as there is enough interest. Claassen, a coach of one of the company’s many youth teams, says rock climbing is a “great outlet for energetic kids.” First-time visitor Liz Sandberg, a mother of three boys, agrees, saying, “It’s fun. They want to keep coming back.”

The Studio will also incorporate a wireless café, built into its climbing walls. A large cutout in the main wall opens up almost like a balcony, giving café-goers a clear view of climbers making their way to the top. Claassen says that a quiet place became a necessity for their members because the gyms “become people’s homes.” The Studio’s café isn’t completed, yet, as parts of the gym are still under construction. Claassen hopes that the gym will be able to remain open during construction and that hours and membership will increase once the building is finished.

Climbers can become members for $69 a month or $759 a year. Membership includes access to all Touchstone gyms and the use of any of their facilities, including drop-in fitness classes, rock climbing, and exercise machines.

The Studio also offers individual day passes, which run about $18. The passes allow the same all-access use of the gym that memberships provide, and newcomers can sign up for a full “Intro to Climbing” class for $11 more.

There is one catch for those looking to drop in for a day of rock-climbing fun. For safety reasons, climbers must pass a few tests to climb on their own. The required skills include tying knots, attaching the harness, and belaying a climbing partner. This may sound difficult, but it only takes about three minutes. Kraatz says, “As long as you pay attention in the training class, it’s easy stuff.” Once the tests are completed, climbers are certified and receive a card verifying their ability to climb without staff assistance.

Claassen says The Studio is meant to attract members from “all across the board,” welcoming young professionals, college students, families, and seniors. The Touchstone team wants to reconnect with the community and is hoping The Studio will introduce rock climbing to many newcomers, as well. Everyone’s needs are met, whether the goal is getting in an interesting workout, sampling rock climbing without a trip to the mountains, or just having a day of fun.

396 S First St
San Jose, CA 95113
instagram: studioclimbing
facebook: thestudioclimbing

Article originally appeared in Issue 4.2 Vacation (Print SOLD OUT)

It’s about what you give back and how you change and help other people to become their best selves. I just want to give to others what they have to me.
Bay Area curler Gabrielle Coleman stands out in a sport that doesn’t.
Most Tuesday nights, Gabrielle Coleman can be found inside Stanley’s Sports Bar at Sharks Ice in downtown San Jose. She doesn’t drink, she’s not an employee, and she says she’s never been a great skater either. She’s not there for the hockey. She’s there for curling.

Once a week from 9:30pm to 11:30pm, Coleman and 40 or so other curlers join up at Sharks Ice for a curling league and a good time. Coleman, however, has aspirations that many of her co-competitors do not. The 33-year-old is such a good curler that she’s competed at the national level, even reaching the US Olympic trials in 2009.

Yes, her sport is curling, that shuffleboard-like ice sport that draws a lot of attention every four years when the Winter Olympics come around. But most of the time, it is forgotten here in the United States. There are a little more than 16,000 curlers across the country on record. Canada, regularly the favorite to win gold at the Olympics, has approximately 1.3 million by comparison, despite a population that is little more than a 10th of the size of the United States’.

Coleman and her coach Barry Ivy are part of one of the largest clubs in California, the San Francisco Bay Area Curling Club. Established in 1958, their mission, along with the rest of the United States’ curling community, is to help the sport grow. Recently, it’s worked. Participation has grown by more than 50 percent since 2002, with an even more impressive 16 percent jump from 2010 to 2011.

For Coleman, it isn’t just the country’s reputation she’s trying to improve, but her specific region’s. Ivy calls the West Coast “the boonies of the curling world,” and while this statement is in jest, it’s not far from the truth. There are very few competitive curlers from the country’s Pacific coast. In fact, just one of the 10 teams at the US Olympic trials in 2009 was based west of Bismarck, North Dakota. Most are located in the country’s longtime curling hubs like Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Coleman, a Mountain View native, was a part of that sole western team, based in Seattle, Washington. She was also the lone competitor—of 42 total—who resides in California. It’s that obstacle that makes her curling commitment so much more demanding.

Paying out of her own pocket, she flies to Seattle or Vancouver almost every weekend from August to March for training. During competitions, she has to take time away from her work at NBC, which she credits as being not only accepting and understanding of her love for curling but “enormously supportive.” She doesn’t mind the commitment though and finds the bright side to her travels. “It’s like a mini-vacation every week.”

Other curlers live nearer to facilities dedicated to curling, and those among the highest ranked teams receive funding from the US Olympic Committee. Coleman and her teammates do not. As Ivy puts it, “People who play at a dedicated facility can go down and throw rocks at lunchtime for an hour.” The lack of practice time Coleman can get during the week presents a real challenge that other curlers, even in Seattle, don’t always face.

But while they have their advantages, Coach Ivy believes Coleman has some of her own. “If the rest of the United States curling world at the elite level was as committed as Gabrielle, we would be winning Olympics,” Ivy says.

The competition hasn’t always been that strong. Just seven years ago, Coleman attended her first curling event, just hoping to have a fun experience. Challenged by her brother that she couldn’t make nationals, she decided it was on. Within a year, she was competing at the women’s club nationals, who had trouble fielding enough teams for their 10-team tournament. That year, only seven teams had signed up to compete. This year, there are 18 teams vying for those 10 spots.

The US Olympic trials have also grown more competitive in recent years. The field of 10 from 2009 has been trimmed to just four for the upcoming 2013 trials. For Coleman, this means getting back will be harder than ever. In 2009, her team finished eighth, which wouldn’t be good enough to qualify this time around. Coleman knows her team has to win at nationals to qualify, since two teams have already qualified and the national governing body chooses the fourth.

She gives her team an outside chance at coming out with the win if they “have a good week.” Ivy is especially high on their chances. “Don’t let her fool you,” he says. “This is definitely doable for Gabrielle.”

While the increase in the sport’s popularity has made her goals more difficult, the NBC Bay Area morning show director is ecstatic to see so many new curlers, not only at her own club but around the country. As a member of the board for SFBACC, growing the curling community is important to her. She’s trying to help the club secure ice that’s dedicated to curling for the first time in 20 years, rather than having to share ice time with hockey players and recreational skaters.

Just like the sport as a whole, the Princeton grad has come a long way since 2006. She recalls her first national competition as something of a nightmare for Ivy, who tried to lead four curlers with about three years of combined experience. “I was so lost,” Coleman says. “In my first game, I had to ask my opponent when to start.”

Since then, she’s gone on to write an e-book on her experiences, directed at helping other beginning curlers. Break Through Beginner Curling details everything from curling basics to the confusing nature of large national competitions.

At Sharks Ice, it’s clear how much interest Coleman has in teaching others, taking time out to encourage a teenage girl who was just watching to give it a try. But while there is an inclination to teach, she also hopes to curl competitively for a long time.

The sport keeps drawing her back because, no matter how good she gets, she feels there will always be a new challenge. “Everybody who’s any good can throw the stone accurately,” she says. “It’s the complexity and the strategy of the shots at the higher levels that keep getting tougher.”

The unity and bond of a team is another aspect she loves. For casual observers, the team aspect might not be as obvious on TV as it is to those who know the game. “From the instant I release the shot, me and my teammates are communicating,” Coleman emphasizes. “It’s like any other team sport. We can’t win unless we’re all on the same page.”

On the ice, that communication is unmistakable. The sweeping of the ice, one of the most unusual aspects of the sport, relies on it. If their timing on when to speed up or slow down the stone is off just a little bit, the shot could end very differently.

Whether her team wins or not, Coleman hopes she and her teammates can be good examples of the increasing geographical diversity of the game in the United States. She also recognizes that her personal success can help grow the sport on the West Coast, especially in California.

“For me to win, for us to win, it would be a big deal,” she says. Both Coleman and Ivy believe that that kind of statement at nationals could lead to big improvements in not only her own curling environment but the West Coast overall. It would go a long way towards helping to find the dedicated curling ice SFBACC is still looking for.

From experience, Ivy knows that a lot of clubs don’t go to the lengths that SFBACC does. They require lessons for those wanting to join any of the club’s leagues, and Ivy knows they lose some curlers because of it. But he and Coleman both have a strong interest in passing the culture of curling on, and they want to do it the right way. “A lot of clubs will say ‘wing it’ and send you out on your own,” Ivy says. “We want to teach.”

Coleman remembers going to those training sessions and finding much more help than she thought she would. Though it was swarmed with close to 200 people, she said important members came up to her encouraging her to stay on because of the lack of women in curling. Ivy was one of those early tutors that kept her confidence and interest high, even if it was her brother’s challenge that made it stick.

With some of the founders of the club having moved on, Coleman calls Ivy the “resident expert” and lists him as her greatest inspiration on her USCA profile. She wants to give back, just like he has to her. “Even though it is about trying to be the best curler you can be and winning medals, it’s not really about that,” she says. “It’s about what you give back and how you change and help other people to become their best selves. I just want to give to others what they have to me.”

facebook: bayareacurling
twitter: sfbacc

[Editor’s note: As of 2018, the newly formed Silicon Valley Curling Club has stepped in to serve the South Bay in San Jose and Fremont.]

instagram: svcurling
facebook: svcurling
twitter: svcurling

Article originally appeared in Issue 5.2 “Invent”

Columnist Sal Pizarro Finds His Voice

Growing up in the Bay Area, newspaper readers got to know Herb Caen and Leigh Weimers over their morning cup of coffee. That’s how it was. Regular columnists became old friends or the source of a good argument. Relative newcomer Sal Pizarro is only forty years old and just six years into the job, compared to Weimers’ forty year tenure. Pizarro is still finding his voice, both in print and through new forms of social media. Published six days a week, his Around Town column for the Mercury News is witty but never opinionated. When will he bring on the funny or unleash the grumpy old guy in the corner?

“I have been doing the column for six years, but I don’t feel like I have earned the right to be that crotchety yet,” asserts Pizarro. “It is being encouraged at the paper for me to insert more of my own voice into the column. I didn’t want it to be that suddenly you’re going from Leigh to this guy, and we don’t know who he is. I feel more comfortable making comments about what I perceive going on in the city. Taking what people tell me and sort of throwing it through my head and saying, ‘Here’s the word on the street.’”

So how will Pizarro make the column his own? Could he become a gossip columnist? He answers, “That’s so funny. I ask people who say they wish my column had more gossip in it, ‘What do you think is gossip? Do you want to know who’s dating who?’ Because no one really cares. It’s just not that kind of community.” Just by talking to so many people, Pizarro knows the local community well. “People are very comfortable telling me things because they’re pretty sure I’m not going to print it. And that’s something Leigh taught me: always know more than you write. So I sometimes know things that I really can’t write.”

But he still comes across as someone with a genuine desire to get positive news out there again. “My goals are to be entertaining and informative, and a lot of times that translates into being the person who writes about the good things. I happen to love that idea because I’ll say, ‘If I don’t write about this, no one else is going to.’ A missing girl in Morgan Hill is going to trump a lot of things I write about. It’s going to take up three reporters that aren’t going to be able to cover the Boy Scouts Character Awards. So I like doing that.”

He also likes being a stay-at-home dad with an 8-month-old son and a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Pizarro does diapers and daycare from 7am until 3pm when his wife comes home from work as Public Relations Director for Presentation High School. They chat together and do a little download of the day’s events before he sets off for his job, which he will work at until late. His parents chip in and watch the children two mornings a week, which frees him up for the occasional morning interview or charity luncheon. Most of his writing is done at night in his converted office in the garage. His daily deadline is noon, so he can edit and read through his column the following morning during naps. “Not mine,” he quips.

The social butterfly lifestyle is not so easy when combined with caring for children all day. “Some days it’s really exhausting. I can be with the kids for basically nine hours, and then I’ve got to go to an event. But, on the plus side, after nine hours with really small kids, it’s nice to be able to talk to adults and have a glass of wine,” Pizarro says with a grin. “I get to spend a lot of time with my kids, so any time I think about complaining about my job and my hours, I just think: I get to spend all day with my kids and how many guys do I know who get to do that that aren’t collecting unemployment checks?”

When Pizarro gets dolled up for a Saturday night event, his daughter Mia often asks him if he is going to a wedding. “I don’t know where she picked that up. No,” he says. “Daddy’s going to work. I feel especially guilty because before we had kids, my wife used to go to a lot of these things with me, and it was great fun, and now we pick our spots carefully. It’s partly her choice, too, because she says if we’re going to use up a babysitting chip, then she doesn’t want to be going to work. Let’s go to a movie or dinner.”

While he relishes the flexibility of his job, Pizarro also misses the structure of his thirteen years working as an editor at the Merc—starting work at 4pm and clocking out by midnight. Many of those years were spent as Leigh Weimers’ direct editor. “Those years really prepared me. I’ve learned how [Leigh] took something and made it briefer. That’s the challenge of writing in this space. I have about 450 words a day. I try to fit as much as I can in. I will spend a lot of time trimming things down, and sometimes an entire item will go away because it’s sort of like doing surgery: once you’ve had to cut off both legs and both arms, what do you have left?”

Some of what Pizarro writes about comes directly from real people who call or e-mail and say, “I know about this thing that happened. It’s kind of a funny story. Chances are, if I’ve got room, I’ll get it in.”

A big chunk of his work concerns deciding which event to attend. His record is four in one night. “I don’t recommend that. It was crazy—downtown San Jose, Palo Alto, Mountain View. Driving all over the place and then stopping in at an event for an hour, and then moving on to the next thing. Politicians do that all the time, but it’s a little easier for them because all they have to do is shake a few hands, and then they can leave.”

Unfortunately, Pizarro has no entourage driving him around or sorting his mail. “If I had dreams, it would be to have an assistant of some sort. I always read about how Herb Caen had somebody going through his mail, taking his calls. Having the same general type of column, people make that assumption. Clearly you must have a staff. No, I don’t.”

Driving around is not so difficult because he knows the area like the back of his hand—Pizarro grew up in San Jose. “Being downtown in San Jose in the 1970s was, well…dangerous is a kind word. One of the reasons I transferred from San Jose State to Santa Barbara was because downtown San Jose wasn’t really there yet. The Jazz Festival, Cinequest, and Music in the Park all started in the ’90s because there was nothing to do. Now it’s changed with Sofa District getting going, cool places to eat. Eventually, San Jose grew on me to the point that I did not want to leave.”

But the future is uncertain for Pizarro—at least in print. Pointing at the paper, he says, “I think you will be surprised if we have that ten years from now. If you had said that to me when I started in 2005, I would have laughed and laughed and laughed, but now it is where we are. We have a point where we need to figure out how to make money digitally. It’s not just online ads; it’s a whole host of possibilities which aren’t just print advertising. That’s the joke. If Fry’s or Macy’s goes out of business, we’re in a lot of trouble.”

Pizarro’s tenure began during the recession, and he admits, “It’s strange thinking that I’ve only really done this job during hard times. I’d be really interested to see what things are like when the economy is up because it makes people a lot happier. I can’t imagine how many times I have written ‘despite the current economic woes.’ I might as well have that saved on a copy-and-paste.”

Many of the colleagues Pizarro began working with twenty years ago at the Merc are gone. “When I started writing this column, we had an art writer…a philanthropy writer, a dance writer. We had more education and theatre writers, and all those positions have gone away. And so everything eventually found its way to me. The reason I am saying this is because during all these bad times, these agencies need more help, and I am trying to get the word out. When things get good again—and I am counting on that they will—the agencies won’t need me as much. Wow, I am going to have some space to fill.”

But Pizarro has a new audience, and it is online. Social media allows him to express himself more freely, without space limitations. He can even crack jokes. “Twitter and Facebook are interesting,” agrees Pizarro. “This is maybe where eventually the crotchety old man will come out one day, but I still feel like it’s better for me to get in someone’s event or an extra few names than to make some joke that I’d have no problem making on Twitter or Facebook.”

Take last Friday night, for instance. Pizarro was covering a fundraising gala. “I was one of the few guys wearing a tie because it was all venture capitalists and they are all in shirts and sport coats looking hip. That’s what I was tweeting about. ‘Man, I am the only one wearing a tie.’ Or ‘MC Hammer’s here.’ So I am tweeting all these things, but none of that got into my column because that’s not about their organization—it’s just me making funny asides. I hope at some point we have someone covering their event and writing a story about what they do, and then I don’t have to carry that weight, and I can say okay, here’s what was fun about that. They had the most crazy expensive scotch I’ve ever seen at an event. They made fun of Jack Dorsey for wearing jeans by pointing out that Reed Hoffman from LinkedIn didn’t.”

“I don’t miss writing about gossip that much, but who knows, if I do this job for another twenty years, I may have a lot more bile,” says Pizarro. “I may just start writing about all these youngsters who are who knows doing what…I can’t imagine what this place is going to be like twenty years from now.” With any luck, he will be a little more crotchety but still bringing his positive message to a new generation of readers in San Jose and beyond.

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Article originally appeared in Issue 4.2 Vacation (Print SOLD OUT)